Just one week ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning were a discombobulated mess following a listless effort in Sunrise. Fast forward seven days, and the Bolts find themselves in much better shape following a perfect record on a difficult homestand.
Tyler Johnson scored a power play goal, Nikita Kucherov notched the eventual game-winner on a highlight reel-worthy play, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 28 saves in the Lightning’s 2-1 win over the St. Louis Blues (4-2-0) at Amalie Arena. The victory capped off a perfect 3-0-0 mark on a homestand against stiff competition. Entering the game, the Lightning (4-1-0) allowed an average of 37.5 shots per game through their first four contests. Tonight, they buckled down and allowed only 29 shots on net.
Tonight’s contest was a much different affair than their previous two games against similarly speedy opponents in Washington and Pittsburgh. This wasn’t a slow game, but the Lightning needed a period to adjust to a bigger, more physical Blues team. Once they did, they carried play for the majority of the final two periods. When asked about how much his team has grown since that debacle in Sunrise, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper felt like much of that growth occurred tonight.
“Actually, I watched out team grow tonight. You watch the way we played in the first period, as opposed to how we played in the second and third. We were a little more responsible tonight,” Cooper said. “Pittsburgh and Washington were different games because we played to our opponent a little bit in those games, so when the track meet started, we were more than obliging to jump into one with them.”
“St. Louis is big and heavy and we had to work to get around these guys and it took us a period to figure out how we were gonna do that,” said Cooper. “We started skating and using our assets to our advantage.”
While the Blues didn’t dominate the opening period, they carried play for the latter half of it.
Early on, Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko struck iron on a shot, followed by Steven Stamkos launching a one-timer turned aside by Blues goalie Jake Allen. A Blues power play following an Anton Stralman interference penalty led to St. Louis getting some solid opportunities and carrying the play over the final eight minutes of the period.
St. Louis owned a 15-9 lead in shots on goal in the opening 20 minutes, but the Lightning made their adjustments and came out flying in the second period. Both of the top two lines, with Stamkos between Kucherov and Vlad Namestnikov and Brayden Point between Ondrej Palat and Yanni Gourde, began to dominate the flow of play.
Following a penalty on St. Louis for too many men on the ice seven minutes into the period, the Tampa Bay power play went to work.
With 40 seconds remaining on the man advantage, Point worked the puck back to rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev at the point. Sergachev dished it to Johnson in the left circle, where his wrist shot beat Allen through the five-hole for a 1-0 Tampa Bay lead at 8:20. The Lightning would continue to use their speed to their advantage, generating plenty of scoring chances and out-shooting St. Louis 13-5 in the second period.
Tampa Bay continued to push the pace of play in the final 20 minutes, knocking on the door multiple times. Kucherov rewarded them with a dazzling goal at the 6:27 mark. Namestnikov knocked a loose puck over to Stamkos in the neutral zone, who then flicked the puck up to a streaking Kucherov, who got behind Blues defenseman Colton Parayko. Kucherov then zipped a backhander past Allen for his fifth goal of the season and a 2-0 Bolts lead. Kucherov owns one goal in each of the Lightning’s five games this season.
Tarasenko would spoil Vasilevskiy’s perfect night up to that point with 3:23 left, cutting the Lightning lead to 2-1. Using two Bolts defenders as a screen, he fired a shot off the rush past Vasilevskiy. Kucherov took a high-sticking penalty with under a minute left, but Vasilevskiy was up to the task, keeping the Blues from tying the game after they had pulled Allen for an extra skater.
Tampa Bay will embark on a three-game road trip beginning in Detroit on Monday night. They’ll play their first-ever contest in the brand new Little Caesar’s Arena against the Red Wings. Puck drops at 7:30 pm.
This was the first game in which the Lightning held an opponent under 30 shots on goal…..Kucherov’s five-game goal streak is the longest of his NHL career…..Vasilevskiy has started all five of the Lightning’s games this season…..The Lightning have now won four in a row at home. This is only the second time that Tampa Bay has won their first four home games to start the season. The last time was 2012-13…..The Lightning are 7-0-1 in their last eight home games dating back to last season…..Cedric Paquette returned to the lineup after missing the previous game. The healthy scratches were J.T. Brown, Gabriel Dumont, and Andrej Sustr. Sustr hasn’t played since Opening Night…..Once again, the Lightning went with a lineup of 11 forwards and 7 defensemen.
Three Stars of the Game
1st Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Stopped 28 out of 29 shots in his fifth consecutive start
2nd Star: Nikita Kucherov – Owns a five-game goal scoring streak, finishing with the game-winning goal tonight
3rd Star: Steven Stamkos – Assisted on Kucherov’s goal and finished a plus-1 with a team-high four shots on goal.